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Did IRS stimulus checks and other direct benefits help stop food insecurity from getting worse?

According to the USDA Economic Research Service’s rubric, the surplus of federal aid in 2020 appeared to do what it was supposed to do.

Did IRS stimulus checks and other direct benefits help stop food insecurity from getting worse?
[Photo: Metin Ozer/Unsplash]
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This morning, the USDA released its annual Household Food Security report, a survey of almost 35,000 U.S. households on Census Bureau data. According to the numbers, for 2020—the worst year for economic growth since World War II—the rate of households that were food insecure was unchanged from 2019. This is big news because 2020 was obviously a year of tremendous economic upheaval, and U.S. food insecurity reached its lowest level since the Great Depression in 2019. This trend was not one experts were predicting. Based on the unemployment rate, a pair of Brookings Institute researchers had guessed food insecurity would affect between 13% and 19% of all Americans.

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This means that, at least according to the USDA Economic Research Service’s rubric, the surplus of federal aid appeared to do what it was supposed to do, and kept food insecurity in check. Since the pandemic started, families needing assistance have been able to qualify for three rounds of stimulus checks, increased SNAP benefits, additional child tax credits, expanded EBT, and extra school meals even when school was being held remotely.

The USDA’s new report will likely become ammo for Democrats and progressives who support permanently increasing social-safety-net spending in the country. The dollar figure Washington kicked in (trillions) alarmed critics who predicted the payoff would be underwhelming. However, it appears food hardship didn’t climb during the pandemic after all.

The USDA has already said free school meals will continue through 2022 to keep kids fed. And the government’s new SNAP benefit increases arriving on October 1—the single largest in SNAP history, to more than 25% above their pre-pandemic levels—will also be available indefinitely to all 42 million SNAP beneficiaries.

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